Friday, February 24, 2012

12 Ways Educators Earn Respect, Part Two

In part one of this two-part series, I shared 6 of 12 ways educators earn respect.  Simply listed, the first 6 are:
  • set goals
  • stick with it
  • learn from mistakes
  • take chances, but avoid recklessness
  • over-communicate
  • have a plan, but be flexible
Now, here are the next 6 ways educators earn respect.


Students often just need you to listen to them.  This is particularly true when you are pointing out an error on their part.  I have found that if you stop and allow the student to have their chance to engage with you, you can still accomplish your objective AND have the added bonus of that student now knowing that their connection with you is a two-way street.

Listening also allows you to model empathy and emotional intelligence.  When you listen, you are telling the other person that you care, at least enough to allow them the chance to be a part of the conversation.  Students want to be heard because they are often trying to find their voice.  Listening to them gives students a much needed ear.  For that, students will respect you.

Know Your Stuff

Students, I have found, are very good at quickly (and accurately) determining if their teacher knows two things: the topic or subject being taught and how people learn.  For certain, students are not always correct, but it is uncanny how many times over the years students have commented that "Teacher X doesn't know the subject" or "Teacher Y doesn't know how to teach" - and they end up being right.

When you step into the room as a teacher, you are the expert in the room on that topic and how to help students learn it.  That doesn't mean you need a Ph.D. in education, psychology, or your subject to teach.  It does mean that you need to stay current, apply strategies that have shown to work, and be prepared to answer (and ask) good questions.  Since nobody knows everything, it also means that you know where to find the answers (this is among the most valuable lessons I learned in graduate school).

If you don't "know your stuff", students will recognize this very early on.  Students cannot and do not respect teachers who don't "know their stuff."

Stop Trying to Prove You Know Your Stuff

Ok, you know your stuff and are read to help students learn.  Now what?

Stop trying to prove you know your stuff!

It is a given that you know it (thus the lack of respect when students figure out a teacher really doesn't).  Your class is not a forum for you to prove to the students how smart you are or how much you know.  Proving how much you know may be impressive for a brief moment, but eventually students want to know you have their interests in mind; that you are leveraging your knowledge to help them learn.

If your class is simply a platform to draw attention to your wisdom, you are missing a chance to earn critical respect points.  Work to draw attention to student achievement, not your understanding of the topic.

Have a Foundation

In the class, the teacher is the leader, and leadership needs a foundation.  I suggest four leadership foundations: vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy.  Every leader needs to have a clear understanding of these foundations in order to be clear in their expectations and to build leadership capacity among their team.  In the case of a classroom teacher, I suggest that leadership capacity among the students can be measured by the degree of academic maturity that exists in the class.  In other words, to what degree can your students take responsibility for their learning, lessons, assignments, etc. and display an acceptable level of progress towards the course objectives?

Before leadership capacity can be built, the leader needs to know their own foundations.  Unfortunately, it is rare that a teacher examines these four foundations.  If you want to examine your vision, beliefs, mission, and philosophy deeper, I have written an eBook, Foundations: Examining Vision, Beliefs, Mission, and Philosophy, that guides you through that process.

When in Doubt...

While good teachers plan well and are prepared for their class, it is rare that lessons always go as planned.  When faced with having to go "off script" for some reason, teachers who are prepared with back-ups have a great chance to not only model the value of flexibility and preparation, they have an opportunity to score big respect points.

I suggest that a solid back-up plan requires a teacher to have not only a deep knowledge of the subject, but more importantly, a deep understanding of her own strengths and challenges as an instructor.  When in doubt, go to your strengths!

For example, you planned an awesome experiential learning lesson on the Boston Tea Party and the Sons of Liberty, but when you got to school there was a fire drill which caused the class to be shortened in a way that would not allow the lesson to work.  Doing an experiential learning lesson was somewhat new for you, and you were really looking forward to it, but now you are stuck with having to come up with a new idea.

What are your strengths?

Well, for the sake of this example, let's say that in the past, you have lectured the class on the topic and you are very good at it.  While you were trying something new, it may need to wait another day.  Go to your strengths, deliver the lecture after explaining to the class that they will do the other lesson tomorrow.

While this was not ideal, it is probably effective and you avoided looking unprepared in the eyes of the class.

Give Respect

This one is simple.  If you want respect, give respect.

Earning respect is not getting students to pay attention to you.  Their attention provides you a platform to engage in a manner that earns you respect.

For example, I am a middle school administrator.  I work with students in grades 6-8.  I also really don't have much interest in Justin Bieber or the Twilight series.  On the other hand, I sometimes wear pink or yellow pants and engage with them about those subjects.


Because it gets their attention and provides me an opportunity to guide them in a real (yet sometimes sneaky) way.  Do I earn their respect?  I have never asked them, but knowing middle school students the way I do, if they choose to interact with you, chances are you have their respect.

Whether you are a new or veteran teacher, establishing, maintaining, and growing the level of respect for you as a professional educator is both healthy for you on a personal level and beneficial to your students and colleagues.  Sometimes you need to focus on you.  Empower yourself by working to earn respect.
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